Daily Archives: August 1, 1996

The Island Of Dr. Moreau

A bewildering mixture of ambitiousness and tripe, this latest version of the 1896 H.G. Wells SF horror classic, featuring Marlon Brando as the mad doctor experimenting with DNA to create strange beasts on a remote Pacific island, shows some aspirations of being truer to the philosophical drift of the original than either Island of Lost Souls (1933), which featured Charles Laughton, or 1977’s less memorable The Island of Dr. Moreau with Burt Lancaster. But Brando’s decision to milk almost all of his lines for laughs (and plummy Laughton-like line readings) unhinges the higher ambitions of this enterprise; at almost no point does his performance mesh with what the rest of the movie is doing. Another problem is the clunky storytelling, including the strained use of the narrator-hero (David Thewlis) as an identification figure, and an even unlikelier use of Val Kilmer as the doctor’s drunken assistant. John Frankenheimer is credited as director, but given the scrambled multiple agendas at play here, he seems to function more like a bemused traffic cop. With Fairuza Balk, Marco Hofschneider, and Temuera Morrison. (JR) Read more


Director Nigel Finch, best known for his work as editor and executive producer on BBC Two’s first-rate documentary series Arena, was HIV positive when he directed this 1995 fictionalized account of the early days of gay liberation in New York City, but he lived long enough to see the movie through the final cut. Loosely adapted by Rikki Beadle Blair from Martin Duberman’s nonfiction book of the same title, it centers on a gay activist (Frederick Weller in a nice performance) who comes to New York from the south and gets involved with a Puerto Rican drag queen (Guillermo Diaz) as well as various gay-rights initiatives; their story and others eventually culminate in the historic drag-queen riot provoked by the police raid on Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn on the day of Judy Garland’s funeral in 1969. Hokey in spots but sincere as well as informative, this movie features some swell voguing as well as good supporting performances by Brendan Corbalis, Duane Boutte, and Bruce MacVittie. 99 min. (JR) Read more


I haven’t seen the play by Mark Medoff that this independent feature is based on, but the five central characters are so well defined that it must be impressive. A young and disturbed mathematician (Frank Whaley) gets hired as a caretaker on a rural estate in New Mexico by a former schoolteacher (Blythe Danner), and discovers to his amazement that her long-estranged daughter (Twin Peaks’s Laura Palmer, Sheryl Lee) is a popular TV star he’s already obsessed with. When the daughter comes home on an unexpected and extended visit, the obsession grows only more intense as mother and daughter try to iron out their own relationship; smaller but key roles are played by former suitors of the mother (Bruce Davison as a local lawyer) and daughter (Danny Nucci as a local policeman). Although director Ross Kagan Marks gets wonderful performances out of all five actors, he’s less certain about where to put his camera, which makes his mise en scene as splintered at times as the flashback structure used by Medoff to adapt his story to the screeninteresting in an eclectic way, though not always successful. But for Danner alone, this movie is well worth seeing, and her coactors aren’t far behind. Read more

To The Starry Island

Politically outspoken and intricately structured through flashbacks, Park Kwang-Su’s compelling and at times witty South Korean feature (1994) deals with the problems that confront a man who wishes to respect his father’s dying wish to be buried on the remote island where he was born. The islanders refuse to let the man be buried there, telling the son stories of conflict that go back to the time of the Korean war. (JR) Read more

Marked Woman

Inspired by Thomas Dewey’s indictment of Lucky Lucianoat a trial where many prostitutes who suffered at the gangster’s hands testified against himthis gritty 1937 Warners crime movie is one of the least compromised melodramas of the period in expressing solidarity with women. Costarring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, written by Robert Rossen and Abem Finkel, and directed by Lloyd Bacon, it’s one of the key films discussed in the 1995 video documentary Red Hollywood, and it packs a serious punch. With Jane Bryan, Eduardo Cianneli, and Isabel Jewell. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Red Hollywood

A highly illuminating, groundbreaking, and entertaining video documentary by Thom Andersen and Noel Burch about the film work of Hollywood communistsmainly writers, directors, and actorsusing commentaries, interviews, and a good many film clips (1995). Many of the clips come from films of the 30s, 40s, and 50s that have received virtually no attention before; this video offers new ways of looking at these filmsand also at Hollywood movies in general. Contrary to the received wisdom, many victims of the Hollywood blacklist worked a lot of political and social content into their studio assignments, and the beliefs of these party members and fellow travelers were far from uniform or monolithic. If you’ve ever wondered about things such as novelist Nathanael West’s work as a screenwriter or what communists had to say for and against Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust, this provocative investigation has plenty to impart. (JR) Read more

Tom, Dick And Harry

Funny as well as fascinating, this wartime (1941) comedy directed by Garson Kanin about Ginger Rogers trying to choose among three suitorsa go-getting car salesman (George Murphy), an eccentric car mechanic (Burgess Meredith), and a wealthy playboy (Alan Marshal)boasts a few wild surrealist dream sequences about what marriage to each swain might entail, as well as many details that are highly evocative of the period. Scripted by Hollywood communist screenwriter Paul Jarrico, who went on to produce Salt of the Earth as an independent, this was eventually remade as a musical, The Girl Most Likely. With Jane Seymour and Phil Silvers. (JR) Read more

Vive L’amour

Tsai Ming-liang’s strikingly beautiful second feature (1994), a haunting look at alienation among three young people in Taipeia real estate agent, a street vendor, and a gay, painfully withdrawn burial-plot salesmanwon the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival and is one of the key modernist works of the Taiwanese new wave. Working principally without dialogue, with a feeling for modern architecture and contemporary urban despair that often recalls Michelangelo Antonioni, the film gathers its forces slowly, but builds to a devastating finale. In Mandarin with subtitles. 118 min. (JR) Read more

A Borrowed Life

Wu Nien-jen, a key screenwriter of the Taiwanese new wave, makes an impressive directorial debut in this 1994 autobiographical feature about a family in a mining town during the Japanese occupation. The existential identity crises of many who lived through this occupation remains a vivid part of Taiwanese culture, and this is one of the few recent Taiwanese films that confronts this issue directly. (JR) Read more

Small Faces

This 1995 autobiographical film by writer-director Gillies MacKinnon and his brother Billy (a longtime Jane Campion crony who coproduced and collaborated on the script) about three brothers growing up in Glasgow in 1968 is well acted, sincere, and serious, so I wish it engaged me more. The problem may be that I’ve had it up to here with movies about youth gangs: the oldest brother belongs to a gang, the youngest gets involved in the gang rivalry, and the middle brotherpresumably the future directorstays busy with painting and romance. (JR) Read more

Celestial Clockwork

This is one goofy movie, with energy to spare. A Venezuelan bride (Ariadna Gil) abandons her groom at the altar to fly to Paris in hopes of becoming an opera singer and falls in with a colorful and eccentric crowd, including a flashy and devious video artist (Arielle Dombasle), a Russian music teacher (Michel Debrane), an unorthodox psychiatrist (Evelyne Didi), and a gay clairvoyant (Frederic Longbois). Writer-director Fina Torres, a Venezuelan based in Paris since the early 70s, gives this 1994 French-Venezuelan-Belgian-Spanish feminist comedy with stylish MTV-like interludes a Latin exuberance that at times recalls Darnell Martin’s I Like It Like That. Nothing cuts very deep, and at times the film seems to be all over the place (Torres worked with five others on the script); but the surface glitteraided by Ricardo Aronovich’s cinematographykeeps it fetching. (JR) Read more